TORONTO — At just 22 years of age, center back Daniel Carriço will be one of the more familiar faces on a new-look Sporting Clube de Portugal team.
The young captain is set to be the centerpiece of a club that has undergone a transformation over the offseason, including the hiring of new manager Domingos Paciência, who joined the club from fellow Portuguese Primeira Liga side Sporting Clube de Braga.
The wholesale changes were due in no small part to the team’s third-place finish last season. With 48 points, Sporting were 36 points behind first-place Porto and 15 points behind second-place Benfica. It was the eighth consecutive season the Lions have failed to lift the league trophy.
“New players, new team, but we hope that the new season brings the best for us,” Carriço said Friday after training at BMO Field, where Sporting will face Juventus in a Herbalife World Football Challenge match on Saturday (7 pm ET, ESPN Deportes). “It was difficult last year [to top] Porto and Benfica.
“Porto was good, we tried, but we couldn’t compete with them. It was difficult for us. But now with a new season, new players and a new coach everything is different.”
If Sporting are able to return to the top, Carriço says one of the biggest reasons will be Paciência, the man who led Braga to the 2010-11 Europa League final, where they lost to Porto 1-0.
“This year, Domingos is with us,” Carriço said. “It’s a pleasure to work with him. He’s the best coach of Portugal for me.”
Another new face in Lisbon-based club this year is Oguchi Onyewu. The US central defender, who was picked up from Italian club AC Milan, will join Sporting after a brief stint with Dutch side FC Twente. He could make his first start for his new team on Saturday.
Onyewu made his debut with Sporting on Monday, playing the final 22 minutes in a preseason victory in the Netherlands. He is one of eight defenders on the squad that is competing in the WFC.
Sporting beat Ankaraguçu 3-0 in Monday’s exhibition on a goal by forward Hélder Postiga and penalty kicks by Ricky van Wolfswinkel and Diego Rubio. It was the third match of their preseason leg in Holland, where they are refining a 4-1-3-2 system. The Lions have yet to concede a goal in preseason.
“We are all together to make Sporting bigger, the biggest team in Portugal,” Carriço said. “For us, it’s great pleasure for us to be here to play against Juventus, a great team of Europe. We’ll see tomorrow. We’ll try to beat them.”